Food is one of the greatest common cultural elements of all. Virtually every cultural or ethnic group takes pride is its cuisine and these special recipes are among the most important elements of that community’s celebrations and observances. In my own religion, the entire scope of Jewish history and tradition are firmly linked to food.
In recent years there has been so much fusion food experimentation, some truly innovative some outrageous, some actually disastrous, at least in my opinion. Attempts at fusion have crept into every corner of the food industry, including fast food. Jewish Fusion is the natural consequence of Jewish people marrying people from other ethnic communities, a phenomenon that is increasing with every passing year. What could be more natural than combining the best of both worlds and thereby creating something new and exciting? And it is happening all the time. It’s just that no one has taken official note of it.
So that is the purpose of this website.
All Jewish Food is “Fusion”
Virtually all Jewish food could be described as fusion. Over the many centuries of our existence, Jewish people have resided in almost every part of the world. In every one of these communities, creative Jewish cooks have drawn upon local ingredients and favorite dishes and made them their own. For the most part, they adapted local foods to conform to the traditional Jewish religious dietary requirements, the kosher laws. This meant avoiding the prohibited pork and shellfish, and also avoiding mixing meat and milk products in the same meal.
In addition, creative Jewish cooks have taken local popular recipes and have made them their own, often taking these foods with them when political circumstances made it necessary for the Jews to move on. Most of the foods which today are considered Jewish foods in North America are simply adaptations of regional specialties that were brought by our immigrant forebears to this country: corned beef, kosher pickles, loxand, matzah ball soup, to name only a few.
More recently, the next phase of that transition has taken place, wherein foods previously considered Jewish have made their way into the American mainstream, to the point where they are no longer considered Jewish, the bagel being a prime example. As the ad on many New York City buses used to proclaim: “You don’t have to be Jewish to like Levy’s rye bread.”
A particularly interesting aspect of this cross-cultural phenomenon has been the rise of the popularity of Kosher foods, as they are marketed and appreciated as being purer or healthier than other foods; Hebrew National’s advertising, campaign concerning their hot dogs being a case in point, proclaiming “We answer to a Higher Authority.” (I hope this is true.)
What could a rabbi possibly know about cooking? You may be wondering. I am not a chef; I have never owned a restaurant, so I cannot claim professional expertise. Still, cooking and food innovations have been a life-long passion. But my love of cooking really began in my childhood, in Peoria, Illinois which is not exactly the culinary capital of America. My dad, Larry Sternfield, of blessed memory, owned various restaurants in Peoria.
As a rabbi, I am usually charged with nurturing the soul. However, I have discovered that there is more than one way to nurture the soul. As a rabbi, I have great appreciation for the role of foods in preserving our religion. The surest path to the heart often is by way of the palette. The sharing of a good meal with friends and family, and especially a traditional meal, whether it be Passover or Thanksgiving, also can be a spiritual experience. These special meals are especially precious. They link us to our childhood experiences and to those we have nurtured us, And they also help connect us to those with whom we share our lives today. Whether simple or elaborate, there is nothing that can compare to a traditional home cooked meal shared with dear ones or good friends. The effect of these occasions cannot be underestimated.
So, let’s get back to the subject of Jewish Fusion. How do I, a rabbi, have the “chutzpah” to meddle with time-tested favorites? My objective has not been to refine or improve upon traditional Jewish recipes. There are already plenty of excellent Jewish cookbooks that have done just that. Rather, I have attempted to take well-known and time-honored recipes and make something new and, hopefully, more exciting, and if various critics will say: Well, that’s interesting, but it’s not really Jewish, I would regard that as a compliment!
So, that’s what Jewish Fusion is all about. As I hope I have made clear, I do not pretend to be a professional chef. When I consider a new recipe, one of the most important things to me is whether the recipe’s directions are clear and easy to follow. I have written the recipes in this cookbook so that “even a rabbi could follow them.” I hope you will enjoy these dishes. I also hope, when you prepare them for your friends or family, that you will derive as much pleasure as I have by sharing them with you.
This website is not strictly kosher. Most of the recipes can be made from kosher ingredients, particularly the meats and fish. However, for those who do observe Kashruth, the traditional Jewish dietary laws, please use your own judgment as to whether certain recipes conform to your own religious requirements.
-Rabbi Michael Sternfield (e-mail)